Military casualties must be public

6 12 2008
Kara Bertrand
Life Editor, Humber Et Cetera
Published: October 23, 2008

The United States Department of Defense enacted legislation in Aug. 2008 granting journalists access to ceremonies honouring fallen military personnel, a motion that was not present in any legislation until this point.

For the first time since the Vietnam War, under the Fallen Hero Commemoration Act, photojournalists and videographers can now capture flag-draped coffins returning to American soil.

Canada has no such legislation. In April 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper even banned the media from ramp ceremonies at C.F.B. Trenton. While this particular ban has been lifted, there is no official legislation allowing the media to capture these tragic yet poignant moments in Canadian military history.

It’s true that with the ban lifted people can see footage and photos of ramp ceremonies but there is no guarantee that the media will not be prohibited from documenting a service.  Canada should have legislation to ensure every death can be broadcasted for the public record and for history.

The war in Afghanistan has produced the largest number of fatal casualties for any single Canadian military mission since the Korean War from 1950 to 1953 where 516 were killed. With 98 dead and hundreds wounded, the sacrifice encroached by this war is not unknown. Without legislation stating the media can attend these ceremonies, government decisions made on the fly could keep the public in the dark regarding military deaths, forging the effects of the war.

As each day passes, insurgent forces continue to gain strength, and critics wonder when the deaths will cease.  However, with Harper’s promise to begin a pull-out of Afghanistan in 2011, there still is no excuse for forgetting those who gave their lives in the war. Media coverage has given light to each death, providing the family with comfort and support, while putting a human face to the war.

When faced with the decision of enacting legislation, like the Fallen Hero Commemoration Act, hesitation might hang on the notion of Canada forever following in the footsteps of Big Brother America, often looking south to see what’s next on the horizon. Emulating the act should not be taken as lowering ourselves to a game of follow the leader, but rather as a step up to respect not only those who have died but their families and the Canadian public in general.

Failing to cover these issues leaves a great hole in the fabric of Canadian society. With Canada often taking a peacekeeping role in more recent wars, the Canadian public was not used to hearing of military deaths in 2006. Harper was presumably trying to shelter the sensitive ears and eyes of Mr. and Mrs. Joe Normal, and leaving us in the dark regarding the war.

But we should not forget those fighting in Afghanistan, especially with Remembrance Day approaching, regardless of our personal beliefs about the war.